Before death there is dying. Everyone wants to have a swift and painless death. We want to just go to sleep and not wake up. Statistically, however, only about 3% go that way. The other 97% of us are going to decline over time and die slowly. Dying is a process.
It reminds me of the other doorway in life: being born. The baby needs to traverse a narrow passage that is designed to stretch slowly. The mother pushes, and the baby’s head advances. When she rests between contractions, the pressure eases and the head withdraws again. Progress occurs inch by inch. Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back. It culminates in an event called birth, but being born is a process.
Our entire lives are marked by processes like this. We are working toward independence, for example, from the moment of conception. We grow and evolve until we are independent of the womb. We grow and evolve until we are independent of the breast, then the lap. We let go of our parent’s hand and we start school. In adolescence we let go of our parents home to make our own. Our task as adults is to let go of all the limits that have been layered over us along the way––the ego pressures of roles and identities, of cultural expectations. And as an elder, we have the opportunity to let go of our earthly journey and step into the next.
Western culture is obsessed with youth, and death is given very little attention. There is absolutely no recognition of the dying process. Eastern culture understands that dying is entwined with living––life is made of deaths and rebirths. Once we truly see that dying is part of living, we more naturally live every day in a way that honors our original seed of being.
There is a native saying that beautifully describes this: “I want to be today what I want to be when I go Home”.